An Equine Attitude Adjustment

Could a spoiled and stubborn horse teach her something about relationships?

- Posted on Mar 25, 2014

Susan Federici with Smoothie

Smoothie tossed her mane and snorted as I came to her stall. She stepped back and forth in anticipation. “Be patient, girl,” I said. “I’ve got a carrot for you.”

I reached into my pocket, but apparently I was moving too slow for Smoothie. She tossed me into the back wall of the stall with her nose and roughly searched my jacket pockets. She’d torn my pocket half off before finding what she wanted.

I got out of the stall and shut the door behind me. Smoothie munched her carrot happily, but I was at my wit’s end.

Fifty-two and new to riding, I wondered if I’d made a mistake thinking I could handle this beautiful bay quarter horse, my favorite at the stables. When her owner offered to give her to me it seemed like a dream come true. Now I wasn’t so sure.

I wanted to give Smoothie all the love she deserved, but she wasn’t making it easy.

Love, I thought. Was it ever easy? I’d recently ended a long-term relationship, one I’d hoped would last forever. There too I’d done everything to make it work: I was supportive, loving, cared about this man’s needs above all else. Wasn’t that how love was supposed to work?

Well, for me love didn’t work. I locked the stall door. Lord, I’m throwing in the towel where men are concerned.

Smoothie stuck her nose over the stall door and pushed at me just as the trainer at the stable happened by. “What’s going on?” she wanted to know.

“I’m at a loss,” I confessed. I told her about Smoothie’s behavior. How she wasn’t like this in the beginning. What had gone wrong?

“Sounds like that horse is spoiled silly,” the trainer said. “Starting right now, no carrots for a month. And no riding. We’re going to work on Smoothie’s ground manners.” No carrots? Now Smoothie was really going to be mad at me.

As I walked her out of the barn she searched my pockets and snorted. I walked her around on a lead. When she tried to pull away, the trainer had me pull her back into line.

No matter how much Smoothie tossed her head or stamped her foot, she didn’t get her way. I hoped she didn’t hold it against me too much!

Smoothie stayed angry for the next couple of days. Then one morning when I walked into the stables, Smoothie lifted her head. She was looking at me instead of my pockets. It was a lot easier to walk her on her lead when she didn’t have her head stuck in my clothing.

“She’s learning to respect you,” the trainer said when she saw us. Was that what this was, respect? It certainly felt good.

That night in bed I thought about how right the trainer was about Smoothie. I’d given her carrots to show her that I loved her, but instead of becoming more affectionate, Smoothie became more demanding. Giving her everything she wanted hadn’t made her love me.

Not unlike my relationship that had just ended, and all the relationships I’d had in my life before that, come to think of it. I’d let men walk all over me. Whenever I had a man in my life, he became the center of it. Whatever he wanted, I jumped to please him.

In return, just like Smoothie, he came to see me only as a giver, not as someone with needs of her own.

I stuck to my guns with Smoothie. When I saddled her up again, she obeyed me, she was affectionate, and now that a carrot was a special treat, she appreciated it. Smoothie had taught me what not to do in relationships with horses or human beings.

On the first day of the annual riding camp for children, all the horses except Smoothie were saddled up. Smoothie didn’t like that one bit. She ran around the pasture in circles to get the instructor’s attention. When that failed to work, Smoothie opened her mouth and hollered.

“Hey,” I could practically hear her saying, “what’s the idea of leaving me out?”

The instructor broke down laughing. The next day Smoothie was saddled up with the other horses. Smoothie gets results, I thought. How many times had I stayed silent when I wanted something? I had to find my voice like Smoothie had.

A few nights later I was grooming Smoothie in her stall when one of the stable hands came in to feed the horses. She filled up a couple of buckets from the grain bin and started down the row of stalls. Smoothie watched her, ears pricked up in anticipation.

The stable hand approached Smoothie’s stall–and walked right past. She had decided to start from the other end.

Smoothie picked up her rubber grain bowl with her teeth and threw it. The stable hand turned around at the noise. “Smoothie doesn’t appreciate your walking right by her,” I said.

She laughed. “That’s Smoothie.” And no one held it against her. Why had I always been so timid with my own emotions? I wondered. How could anyone really get to know me if I never expressed myself plainly and simply?

Smoothie was too stubborn for me to call her an angel, but for the first time since my breakup I felt optimistic about my future. Maybe love was somewhere out there waiting for me. One thing I knew for sure, my next relationship was going to be different. Because I was going to be different.


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